North Okanagan Community LIfe Society executive director Garry Molitwenik (left) is joined by NOCLS board presdient Darren Bradley and author Janet Klees in announcing the organization’s transition to a family-led organization.

North Okanagan Community LIfe Society executive director Garry Molitwenik (left) is joined by NOCLS board presdient Darren Bradley and author Janet Klees in announcing the organization’s transition to a family-led organization.

Agency embraces model

The North Okanagan Community Life Society promotes independence for those with developmental disabilities

Moving from a small, quality service organization to a dynamic family-led organization is a unique and exciting venture for North Okanagan Community Life Society.

The organization, formed in 1984 after developmentally disabled individuals were de-institutionalized, and provided groups homes and a day centre, announced in October 2014 it would improve the lives of such individuals and help them toward the next step in independence.

The official launch of the new plan was made recently at the Vernon-based NOCLS office.

“What we’re attempting to do here is brave and it’s bold,” said Darren Bradley, president of the NOCLS board of directors. “The hope we can give people in helping their family members transition is exciting.”

In 2004, NOCLS began customized living where individuals were placed in their own homes with support, which closed three group homes.

As of Dec. 1, 2014, NOCLS decided to no longer operate a group home or day program, but continued to assist individuals and families.

It owns the remaining group home but it is operated by a contractor.

Provincial funding has also been eliminated.

“Today is all about possibilities,” said NOCLS executive director Garry Molitwenik. “It’s more about autonomy, control. It’s sustainable.

“We help families with budgets. The benefits of the change is empowering individuals and families to personalize living arrangements and have more satisfying jobs, friends and activities.”

A boost to the transition comes from Janet Klees, an author and executive director of the Durham (Ont.) Association for Family Respite Service.

She has been working with NOCLS for five years.

Klees said families have the ultimate say and controls about their loved ones as opposed to service providers.

“My experience has been that we should never underestimate the capacity of family,” said Klees.

“When families are well-informed, they are supported by resources that won’t take over from them. They are simply there to help understand, learn and grow.

“And when families are given opportunities to meet each other and discuss and learn with each other, their capacity is enormous. Their heart is already there. Between capacity and heart, watch out.”

A full believer in the family-led dynamic is a man named Sid, who told the gathering at the new NOCLS plan launch that his 48-year-old stepdaugher has been part of his life for the past 26 years, and that she has been with her mother all of her life except for a couple of months when she was in an NOCLS group home.

A neurological disorder developed a dozen years ago took away Sid’s stepdaughter’s ability to talk, and any functional use of her arms and legs.

“She still has spirit, still has her own personality and we took her home 10 years ago,” said Sid.

“We’re very much involved in her care and in her life, and we receive assistance from NOCLS. Being involved in her life is not easy. It’s difficult at times and can be frustrating.

“But it absolutely allows you to provide the best opportunities for loved ones, and it does allow you to sleep at night. It’s the best situation for everybody.”

More on NOCLS can be found at its website, www.nocls.com.